Commentary | Disrespecting our elders

How age discrimination occurs in the gay community

Within the gay community, are men defined by their age? While many may take the progressive perspective that age doesn’t define a person, it’s hard not to take notice of the link between age and identity in the gay community. Many stereotypes and roles are determined almost entirely by one’s age.

Apart from general stereotypes, age affects sexual attraction, just as in the straight community. Many gay men specifically seek out those older or younger than themselves.  While it is normal to have different sexual preferences, is an age gap between two men different than between a man and woman? Traditional gender roles dictate that it is acceptable for a woman to date an older man and a man to date a younger woman. However, in the gay context, large age disparties are often socially stigmatized. The classic “sugar daddy” motif comes to mind, and could be the first thing I would think if I saw a gray haired man holding hands with a twenty – year old man.

Such a thought may stem from the stereotypical image of “youthful men” that characterizes the gay community. It would be ridiculous to think that older gay men don’t exist, but the portrayal of gay culture within the media almost always focuses on the younger populace.  This interpretation is not without reason, given that younger males dominate gay culture. Walk into a gay club on a Friday night and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than young and fit men.  Speaking from experience, when one does see an older guy with gray hair they seem out of place. Amidst the young, the physically older don’t seem to belong. To be fair, a club setting is not a wholly accurate example of how older gays are stigmatized, since most clubs cater to young adults. However, gay ageism has been shown to permeate society at large.

Older gay men, specifically seniors, are not recognized within the gay community, nor society as a whole.  Patricia Neil Warren, in her article “Elephant Graveyards: Gay Aging and Gay Ageism in the Year 2000”, focuses upon this fact.  Until recently, no assisted living centers existed that catered to the queer elderly. Such institutions were created due to the maltreatment of gay and lesbian individuals within traditional nursing homes. Unfortunately this is still a problem, as very few queer friendly nursing homes actually exist. Many elderly gay men are forced into an environment of persecution where they must live amongst an elderly community in a nursing home that doesn’t accept their way of life. This lack of support sparked the creation of groups like Mature Age Gays (MAG), which is now one of the largest gay groups in Australia. Another example is the L.G.B.T. Aging Project, based in Massachusetts. Despite these beneficial groups, the gay elderly are often dismissed by their younger counterparts, something that must be remedied. The older generation of queer people fought for some of the rights and equalities we enjoy today in Canada, and now these elderly gay individuals still have to continue to protest against indignities suffered in their old age.  While our elder years may seem a long way away, the time will eventually pass. If today’s gay men do not wish to experience the neglect that our elders presently suffer, then perhaps it is time we return the favour and fight for equality amongst the elderly.

Michael D’Alimonte is a U2 English Literature student. He can be reached at Michael.dalimonte@mail.mcgill.ca


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